About ten days ago, I was trying to come up with something interesting to write as my Facebook status. "What do I believe?" I asked myself. "What do I want people to know about what's going on with me?" And what came to mind was this:
Holly believes in being honest, true, courageous, benevolent, and in doing good to lots of human beings. She believes some things, hopes for a lot of things, has endured many things, and hope she doesn't have to endure too many more. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy, she seeks after these things.
In case you don't know, this is a personalization of the 13th Article of Faith, which I and all other Mormon kids were expected to memorize in Primary when we were in fifth grade. I still remember it, 35 years later. It was always my favorite, for so many reasons: first, it has a nice cadence--even as a fifth grader I cared about that. Also I could actually get behinds its sentiments. I wasn't so big, at age 10, in proclaiming my certainty about the spiritual necessity of the atonement, but I was interested in seeking after things virtuous, lovely, of good report and praiseworthy.
Not only did I and other fifth graders have to memorize all 13 Articles of Faith, we had to learn the story of why they were written: someone asked Joseph Smith what Mormons actually believe, so he wrote up a list of 13 basic tenets and belief.
Although I remember the 13th AoF pretty clear, I had gotten fuzzy on some of the other 12. I looked them up, and realized I was seriously not on board with most of them. So I decided to personalize every last one of them, and create my own 13 Articles of Faith. It was both challenging and rewarding to try to codify my beliefs and opinions. I tried not to be flip. I tried to phrase things so that they would wear well, so that I wouldn't have to clarify them right away. They may or may not be a perfect and accurate summation of my opinions and beliefs 40 years from now, but they'll do for today.
1., I believe in the existence of a great and abiding mystery in the universe, to which some people have assigned the name "god," and which many others prefer not to name at all.
2. I believe that human beings will be neither rewarded nor punished by a god either merciful or punitive, but by karma, the law of cause and effect, the idea that we reap what we sow. I also believe in group karma, meaning that the collective actions of communities also have far-reaching effects, which might not be felt until a critical tipping point has been reached. The result is that culpable individuals within the group might escape suffering they created, and innocent individuals might enduring suffering they have not earned. The fact that our choices have consequences for others is one reason it is imperative that we make careful, responsible choices. I also believe in accidie. In other words, I believe life is not fair, but we must do our best to make it so.
3. I believe that the atonement of Christ is one of the most vicious and barbaric concepts of divinity ever created by humanity.
4. I believe that the first principles of ethics are compassion, honesty and justice. I recognize the significance of rites of passage (including various forms of graduation, formal admission into a group, explicit creation of family ties, and vows to abandon one type of behavior and adopt another), but consider their significance social and personal rather than metaphysical.
5. I believe that institutions and customs reserving power for certain men and certain men only are deliberate and immoral fabrications by power-hungry men. I believe that communion with the divine is available to anyone who seeks it.
6. I believe that progress and innovation should be incorporated into all of our social institutions, including our religious ones.
7. I believe in gifts of communication and understanding, prophecy, revelation, visions, healings, and so forth, though I do not presume to explain how or why the do or do not occur, and I do not believe that these gifts are or should be the special province of one group of people.
8. I believe that divine pronouncements about truth are rare, and rarely recorded. I believe that our holy books are about us, not about god. I believe one of the best statements ever made about scripture comes form William James: "a book may well be a revelation in spite of errors and passions and deliberate human composition, if only it be a true record of the inner experiences of great-souled persons wrestling with the crises of their fate."
9. I believe in being curious, in seeking both knowledge and wisdom, which are not the same thing. I believe that learning things is one of the greatest pleasures available to us. I believe that we possess more ignorance than knowledge. I hope that the universe shares with us more of its secrets.
10. I believe that the issues surrounding the existence of the state of Israel include thorny, difficult problems that will not be solved by statements from individuals or clergy unless violence from all quarters is condemned and halted. I believe that the United States, as the richest country in the world, has an obligation to manage its wealth and its waste responsibly. I believe that we are stewards of our beautiful planet, and that carelessly consuming its resources or damaging its balance is profoundly immoral.
11. I claim the right to criticize the concept of god, which at times has been viciously used to manipulate and control human beings. I insist on this right, no matter how distressing it might be to god's wosrshipers, just as they insist on their right to worship.
12. I believe in being subject to legitimate governments, in enacting, sustaining and obeying just laws. I believe it is vital that governments abide by national and international law, and that government leaders should be tried and punished if they do not.
13. I believe in being honest, true, courageous, benevolent, and in doing good to most human beings.* I believe some things, hope for a lot of things, have endured many things, and hope I don't have to endure too many more. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy, I seek after these things.
*I'm really not sure what to do about either Dick Cheney or Osama Bin Laden, whom I do consider human beings, just not good ones.